Uighur Militancy Tests China's Foreign Policy

By Shih, Gerry | Telegraph - Herald (Dubuque), September 11, 2016 | Go to article overview

Uighur Militancy Tests China's Foreign Policy


Shih, Gerry, Telegraph - Herald (Dubuque)


BEIJING - They have been praised by the leader of al-Qaida and wooed by the head of the Islamic State group. They have distinguished themselves on battlefields in Syria and are accused of carrying out a devastating bombing in Thailand.

In the past two years, militants belonging to the Uighur ethnic group native to the vast Xinjiang region in western China have shown signs of becoming a force in Islamic extremism globally, a development that is reshaping both the ground war in Syria and Chinese foreign policy.

The predominantly Muslim, Turkic-speaking people - ethnically distinct from China's Han majority - have chafed for decades under Beijing's heavy-handed rule.

Their activities have taken on a transnational dimension in recent years as hundreds of Uighur fighters have flowed into Syria to participate in jihad.

Analysts see the broad outlines of metastasizing Uighur militancy that has prompted a response from China, which has abided by a foreign policy of non-interference.

"China's calculus is shifting because the threat picture is shifting from one in which only the Americans and Europeans were targets," said Raffaello Pantucci, director of international security studies at the Royal United Services Institute. "That's why you're seeing Beijing push out. It's a combination of the new Chinese foreign policy assertiveness but also a real concern about what's happening on the ground."

Chinese anti-terrorism expert Li Wei said the threats that China faces domestically and from abroad are now "inextricably linked," leading China to expand its dealings in Syria and Afghanistan.

"I think the international community would agree that Syria is a nexus of global jihad that does threaten the entire world," said Li.

Despite its shifting posture, Chinese observers say the likelihood of the People's Liberation Army fighting directly in Syria and Afghanistan remains extremely low. Over the last decade, China has leaned on Pakistan to carry out drone strikes against TIP commanders in tribal Waziristan, pressured Central Asian allies for intelligence-gathering and sought help from Thailand - but never deployed troops. …

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